Her Name Was Stephanie

272586961_640+copyDriving to church was a dreadfully boring experience. There was nothing but corn fields and dirt roads the whole way. Occasionally, my sister Amanda would try to entertain us by singing, then, my other sister Sarah, would try rapping the song, “Jesus Freak.” I would join in on occasion but I spent most of the time staring out the window wishing the drive was over. Driving to Sunday evening service the night that Stephanie came was no different.

Every Sunday evening the church service was dedicated to congregants sharing testimonies of what God has or is doing for them. My dad was always the first to testify. He is a man of routine. Just like he would go through every room in the house praying the same prayer for each of his kids every weekend, he also gave the same testimony every Sunday. After my dad would speak then Carla would share. After Carla shared, a lady named Stephanie walked on the stage, she adjusted the microphone and began to speak.

Stephanie was not a part of the typical Sunday lineup. This was different, in more ways than one.

Stephanie had long brown hair and wore a floral print dress with tennis shoes. I don’t remember the words she spoke but I remember she reeked of sadness, fear, and desperation like heavy cheap perfume. There was an odd tension in the room when she took the stage, as if she didn’t belong up there.

When the church service ended, members of the congregation gathered around her in the back. At a young age I knew what this meant; they wanted to convert her. But, why? I didn’t understand.

As we drove the dirt roads home that night in our grey Chevrolet station wagon, Amanda didn’t sing and Sarah didn’t rap. Instead, we talked about Stephanie.

That night as I closed my eyes to sleep, Stephanie closed her bedroom door for the last time. A few days later my mom told us what happened.

Stephanie had just been released from jail. After Stephanie visited our church as a last attempt to find love and acceptance, she went home. It was there that someone tied Stephanie to her bed and murdered her.

The conversation we had about Stephanie on our way home from church that evening was how her birth name was Stephen. The tension in the church sanctuary that testimony night stemmed from the fact that Stephanie was a transgender woman. The reason why members wanted to convert her after the service is because they thought she wasn’t right with God.

It was us, the church, who wasn’t right with God.

On that testimony night, Stephanie spent her last evening in a place she hoped would show her love and acceptance. Instead, our testimony was one of rejection and hate for who she was.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, consider who the Stephanie’s in your life might be. Love them. Accept them. Make sure they know it.

Be love,
Azariah Southworth

We Are Human: Gay In Uganda

As I was doing research for a school project I came across a documentary title, God Loves Uganda. Watch this video for the trailer…

If you would like to learn more about the film, go to the website here.

Back in 2011, I interviewed Frank Mugisha who appears in the documentary. If you would like to learn about the plight of LGBT Ugandans and the pending law which seeks to add the death penalty for being gay then listen to this interview…

Stay up-to-date with Frank and the film on Twitter:

TWITTER: GOD LOVES UGANDA

TWITTER: FRANK MUGISHA

Three Reasons To Put Yourself First

A little over a year ago, I grew weary of my procrastination and my stagnant pace in life. I came to a place where I was ready to put myself first in two different ways.

One… I wanted to get physically fit.

Two… I wanted to get my financial life in order.

I was only able to accomplish these two things after I created a vision. I went out and bought a cork board and on a sheet of paper I wrote down what I intended to accomplish within one year. I hung the cork board in a place I would see it everyday. Within that year, I accomplished 90 percent of my goals. For ten months, my diet consisted mostly of chicken, salmon, vegetables, and some fruit. I consumed less of Papa John’s Cinnapies (it’s funny for those who know me well) and began working out.  The result… I lost 30lbs. During those ten months, I learned about eating healthy and had a regular workout routine. Not to toot my horn too much, but I also just completed one month of CrossFit! As far as my financial goal, I tracked my income and my spending which enabled me to have savings and pay off debt.  I learned to say no and put myself first. During those ten months of change, many of my friends thought I no longer wanted to hang out with them, but that wasn’t the case at all. I just simply couldn’t keep doing what I was doing and expect a different result.

Lost 30lbs after choosing to put myself first.

Lost 30lbs after choosing to put myself first.

Here are three reasons why I find it important to put myself first…

It keeps your cup full

How many times have you beaten yourself up for not accomplishing all your tasks? How many times have you wished you had not gone out with your friends so you could get up early and take care of your business? How many times have you wished you would’ve just said, “No, thanks.” Putting yourself first allows you to keep your cup full and achieve your goals. Spiritual teacher, Iyanla Vanzant, once said, “What’s in the cup is for you. What runs out of the cup is for everyone else.” Keep your cup full so you can be an effective person of service in the world.

You empower yourself

Putting yourself first empowers you. When you start to put yourself first and say, “no” to things that don’t contribute to your success and begin saying “yes” to things which do, you start to see results. When you see that number on the scale get closer to the number you desire, you feel empowered. When you see how much you’ve saved in one month, you feel like you can conquer the world! Empower yourself by choosing to put yourself first in every situation! As Iyanla Vanzant says, putting yourself first is not selfish… it’s self full.

It will strengthen your relationships
When your cup is full and you feel empowered, it allows you to give your best in all things, including relationships. Because I chose to care for myself, I became able to care for others. Last year, I had to write a paper which required me to visit a Buddhist Temple. When I visited the Temple, I participated in the meditation session. I had never meditated nor had I been to a Buddhist Temple. To keep this story short, it was a beautiful experience. During the meditation, the monk kept repeating, “Love and kindness to yourself. Love and kindness to your mother and father. Love and kindness to your siblings. Love and kindness to all living things.” It starts with love and kindness to yourself. Once you are full of love for yourself, you’re able to share the abundance of love with others. Remember, it begins with YOU!

 

 

Gratitude

This video was made by YouTuber, JoeNationTV. I learned of Joe after having dinner with him and some other new faces here in Las Vegas the other night.

I wanted to share this video because I feel it is a wonderful reminder that we are surrounded by wonder and beauty at every moment of the day. We just have to slow down then choose to acknowledge and appreciate it.

Allow yourself to slow down.